When you buy a smartphone, you make sure you get the screen covered with a protective film and buy a protective case to ensure its safety and longevity. So why take risks with your life while riding a motorcycle? While there is no sure-fire way to guarantee one’s safety in this unpredictable world, we sure can mitigate the dangers by ensuring that we follow time-tested methods and techniques for safer riding. A complete series on such a subject is quite difficult to find on the internet. So we decided to create a carefully curated, well researched series to help you improve your riding skills and become a more safe, responsible and mature rider. This fortnightly special will take you through a series of riding tips that evolve from basic to advanced levels as we proceed. This week, we are discussing the pre-ride precautions you should take before you set out for that much awaited ride.
Checking the tyres is crucial and should not, under any circumstances, be overlooked. Tyres provide the only contact between the motorcycle and the tar, hence it’s paramount to ensure their good health. There are a number of things that you should keep in mind to ensure that your bike’s tyres are in top shape. Always use high quality tyres for your bikes. Ensure that you wrap your motorcycle’s rim with a tyre brand and model which has been tested over a period of time. Using inferior rubber to save a few bucks is a dangerous idea. Nothing, and absolutely nothing is more crucial than the grip and reliability offered by your motorcycle’s tyre during an emergency situation. Your confidence on the motorcycle, your bike’s ability to stay true to the techniques demonstrated in this series and your ability to come clean from a precarious scenario will depend greatly on your machine’s footwear. So never, ever, ever skimp on the tyres.
So you think you have been using a good quality tyre for your motorcycle? Great! Now, the next thing you need to do is to check the tread depth on the tyre. The recommended depth may vary depending on the power and performance rating of the motorcycle. So while you can ride rather safely on a 50cc moped even if the tread is relatively less prominent with hardly any power to break traction, a more powerful motorcycle demands more attention to its rubber.
For a 600cc or above motorcycle, there is absolutely no scope for even the slightest amount of carelessness. So, while a low power motorcycle (100-150cc category) can be used with a relatively lesser tread depth, (no less than 1.0 mm even here) a performance motorcycle should have a clearly visible deep tread pattern. The more powerful machine you ride, the better tread and frequent tyre changes you would require. The legal depth of tread in various countries differs. For instance, in UK, for motorcycles over 50cc, the legal tread depth is 1mm across three-fourths of the width of the tread pattern and with visible tread on the remaining one-fourth. At times, the tread may appear to be good but you may still suffer from lack of road grip. It’s also an indication that it is time to replace the tyre of the motorcycle.
The correct tread depth also depends of the type of the tyre and the road conditions you are using them in. For example some ultra soft compound tyres have a very small tread depth and they’ll stick to the road like a leech as long as you are using them in dry conditions. The tread is crucial to repel water, so it becomes all the more important to ensure a healthy tread while riding in the wet.
Always maintain the recommended air pressure of the tyres as suggested by the manufacturer. Correct air-pressure not only helps improving the fuel economy, but also provides good grip on the surface. Ride the initial kilometres at lower speeds for the tyres to warm up, and build some confidence before you up the pace. Check for wear and tear and possible tyre leaks before commencing a ride. Do not overlook the wheels too as minor bends and dents can also lead to a dramatically different behaviour of the motorcycle in extreme situations.
Just like your body needs fluids, your motorcycle too requires its dose of liquids. Optimum level of fluids ensures the long and smooth life of the engine and a hassle free ride. The check-list comprises of engine oil, brake oil and coolant (in case of liquid cooled engines). Now there are various ways of checking the motorcycle fluids. Modern-day motorcycles have a small window through which one can check the fluid level. Motorcycles that do not have this window for engine oil come with an extended cap with a marked dipstick to check the engine oil levels.
But there are a few do’s and don’ts here. Firstly, never measure engine oil level immediately after a ride, or after having the run the engine for a while. Let the engine cool down, and let the oil settle down before checking the levels. Also, ask someone to hold the motorcycle straight for you before checking the oil level. The markings on the window display maximum and minimum recommended oil levels. Make sure that the oil level is between those two marks.
In case of liquid cooled motorcycles, coolant level should always be kept in check. Somewhat similar to the oil window, is a coolant check window through which you can determine the coolant level in the motorcycle. Also, always keep the coolant colour in check. If the coolant appears to have darkened, flush out the old liquid and refill it will fresh coolant.
Brake oil levels can also be kept in check in a similar way. A small window provides the view of the brake oil level. The rear brake oil level (in case of rear disc brake) is also rather easy to check and refill. It usually is a small, semi-transparent container which lets you see the amount of fluid inside. Top up the required fluids to the recommended levels. Do not mix two different brands of oil or coolant even if they are of the same specification and viscosity.
Electricals, lighting and Cables
You can’t walk without banging into something on a dark night with a power outage in the familiar surroundings of your own house, so treading new territories in the dark without proper illumination is hazardous, quite naturally. A properly functioning electrical system is a must to ensure safe riding in the dark. The electricals check should include gauging battery voltage in amps and the water level, high and low beam on the headlight, tail light, turn indicators and horn. If you ride in the night often, buying a pair of sub headlights, also known as touring lights which can be installed on the crash guard of the motorcycle is a good idea. These things would not drain battery if you install and use them correctly. Carry a few extra pieces of fuse in case you need one.
While it’s not possible to carry all the critical spares along before a long ride, the ones commonly known to break on you should be carried along for a long ride Although the clutch, accelerator and brake cables for most motorcycle models are built to last, they tend to, at times, loosen up or snap due to prolonged use. Many times, it is difficult to find a compatible clutch and accelerator cable so it’s recommended to keep an extra pair handy in case you need replacement.
Chain tension and lubrication
All performance motorcycles come with an open chain for easy access to check wear and tear and for maintenance purposes. But open operations also results in muck and dirt building over the chain with time. Thus, open chain requires periodic cleaning, lubrication and adjustment. So what should you check for first? The very first thing on the chain maintenance check list should be the chain tension also known as chain slack. Now the chain slack differs from motorcycle to motorcycle and the recommended figure is always mentioned in the user manual. However, as a thumb rule, the maximum chain slack should not be more than two inches. Too tight a chain may snap, and may consequently lead to an accident. On the contrary, a loose chain leads to chain slapping, and quicker wear of both chain and the sprocket.
Now that you are done with the chain slack, it’s time for lubrication. As we mentioned earlier, an open chain requires periodic cleaning and lubrication. But the maintenance period differs from different types of chains.
The requirement of chains differs on the cubic capacity of the motorcycle. Commuter motorcycles usually come with non-sealed chains that do not have internal lubrication. This type of chain is cheap but tends to wear out faster. Then there are chains with internal lubrication. These can be classified as O ring, X ring or Z ring chains, depending on the shape of the cross-section of the sealant ring. Most performance motorcycles in India are available with an O-ring chain, which doesn’t require frequent lubrication as it is internally lubricated.
X ring chains too work on a similar principle, though the shape of the sealant ring’s cross-section reduces friction and makes them even more efficient. The O ring chain is almost as good as an X or Z ring chain, except for a little more friction, which is not a matter of concern for everyday use. The X or Z ring chains are quite expensive, though they don’t offer substantial enough advantages for everyday use.
Whatever type of ringed chain you are using, make sure you clean it every once in a while with WD40 to ensure smooth, frictionless internal operation and prolonged life.
Use a chain cleaner or diesel to wipe off all the muck and dust off the chain. You can buy a three sided grunge brush to clean the chain. Then use a piece of cloth to wipe off excessive cleaning agent. Now use a chain lubricant and thoroughly apply all over the chain for external lubrication. Target the lower part of the rear sprocket where the chain meets the sprocket tooth. It is recommended to clean and lubricate the chain during the night so that the application and set in properly.
Lastly, keep a look at the sprockets. The sprocket teeth tend to wear off, and sometimes bend as you pile miles. Replace the sprocket set as soon as you spot wear. It is also recommended to replace the chain along with the sprocket set.
Riding gear and Helmet
Many people think that weekend joy rides are like walking on the beach and end up dressing like that while riding. But this can lead to catastrophic results. The most essential part of any motorcycle journey is a proper set of riding gear. Proper riding gear comprises of a certified helmet, armoured jacket and pants/jeans, gloves and riding boots. Riding gear with CE certified armor can save you a lot of injuries and pain in the unfortunate event of an accident. Most of the riding jackets and pants come with light reflectors which make the rider more visible during night rides. Full size riding shoes are necessary for protecting your feet, ankle, and shin in case of a crash. An optional accessory which can be added is a hydration kit.
A certified motorcycle helmet deserves a special mention. We recommend buying a DOT/ECE certified helmet which matches international standards. But how to select a good helmet? Firstly, you have to select a helmet with the correct size. Many people do not know what size helmet should they buy and end up buying the wrong helmet. Before you head out to the shop, measure the size of your forehead and then select the correct shell size. Select a helmet that requires some bit of effort to pull down to the face from over the head. A helmet that easily slides on your head is unlikely to stay in place in case of an accident. Wind-blasts can make a loose helmet wobble.
Helmet visor is another important accessory that requires attention. An old visor on the helmet with scratches can distort view at night and hence we recommend periodic cleaning of the visor with timely replacement.
This is the list of basic items that you should check before you head out with your prized possession. Try and implement these basic things during this fortnight and come back for more riding tips next week as we introduce a set of relatively advanced tips for better motorcycling.